July 20, 2009

Who won World War II? By Konstantin Rozhnov, BBCRussian.com

"Down with the Banners of the hated Nazi Invaders!
Eternal glory to the Fighting Red Army which broke the backbone of Naziism!"

The Nazi regime collapsed in May 1945, squeezed ever more tightly between two fronts - the Soviet Union on one side and the Western Allies on the other.
But which of these fronts was the most important?

Allied aid to the Soviet Union, from food to lorries, played a vital role
Throughout the Cold War, and ever since, each side has tended to see its own contribution as decisive.

"In the West, for some time... public opinion has taken the view that the Soviet Union played a secondary role," says the Russian historian Valentin Falin.

On the other hand, opinion polls show that two-thirds of Russians think the Soviet Union could have defeated Hitler without the Allies' help, and half think the West underestimates the Soviet contribution.

Ribbentrop's view

Richard Overy, professor of contemporary history at King's College London, notes that after the war, Hitler's foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop listed three main reasons for Germany's defeat:

•Unexpectedly stubborn resistance from the Soviet Union

•The large-scale supply of arms and equipment from the US to the Soviet Union, under the lend-lease agreement

•The success of the Western Allies in the struggle for air supremacy.

"Because Britain and the US had to invade Europe by sea they have a sense of 'liberating' a German-conquered Europe"

Professor Richard Overy,
King's College London

Mr Overy says that for decades Soviet historians underplayed the significance of US and UK lend-lease in the Soviet Union's success, but that Russia has recently shown just appreciation.

"You ask any Soviet person, whether he remembers what a Dodge or a Willis is!" he says. Mr Falin, however, says Russians never forgot the help they received from their allies.

"The Americans supplied us with 450,000 lorries. Of course, in the final stages of the war this significantly increased our armed forces' mobility, decreased our losses and brought us, perhaps, greater success than if we had not such help."


Mr Overy accepts that the Western powers played a smaller role on the battlefield itself than the Soviet forces but says their bombing campaigns made a huge contribution.

"Because Britain and the US had to invade Europe by sea [Italy in 1943, and France in 1944] they have more of a sense of 'liberating' a German-conquered Europe," he says.

Second front

Mr Falin, meanwhile, argues that the war could have been brought to an end more quickly if the second front, in France, had been opened before 1944.

Mr Overy says that the West has a view of the war as a global conflict, because of its fight against Japan, for example, whereas the Soviet view is of a "national crusade to repel the invader".

Mr Falin cites figures suggesting that German forces suffered 93% of their casualties on the Soviet front and argues that this shows the Soviet contribution was decisive.

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